Early Warning Signs

Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art

Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art

Centre Square

The red on white sign was adopted by Gordon Dalton, Producer at Creative Factory, Middlesbrough. The sign was initially displayed outside their offices in the Town Hall until March 2019, when it was moved to take up residence outside Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. At MIMA the sign was looked after by Director Laura Sillars, who was also responsible for the blue on white in 2012 when it was displayed outside Sheffield's Site Gallery where she was former Artistic Director. This marked the first time a sign has visited England's North East. At the end of the year, the sign travelled south again to take up residence at Fermynwoods Contemporary Art in Northamptonshire.

End of Year Report

By Helen Welford, Assistant Curator, MIMA

MIMA, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art adopted Ellie Harrison’s Early Warning Sign in 2019. This work resonates with MIMA’s vision to put art into action and to be a platform for artists and communities to advocate for social change through art. The bold red text reading Climate/Change set against a white background uses the brazen marketing techniques of capitalism to promote the plight of climate change and to capture the attention of passers-by. The work aligned with MIMA’s 2019 year-long artistic programme which included a network of spaced dedicated to ecology and social issues.

MIMA displayed Early Warning Sign in tandem with Fragile Earth: seeds, weeds, plastic crust, an exhibition that looked at the relationship between humans, land and other living things. The show reflected on pressing topics of our moment including human exploitation of the planet, global networks of trade and the production of waste. Early Warning Sign complemented artworks in this show which raised awareness of the consequences of our continued consumption of the earth’s natural resources. For example, a new commission by artist Diane Watson which alerts us to the scale of human use and disposal of plastic and Otobong Nkanga’s In Pursuit of Bling which encourages us to recognise how humans both shape and ultimately destroy the earth.

We positioned Early Warning Sign in the MIMA Community Campus Learning Garden. In this garden project we work with experts, students and artists to learn about food ecology, horticulture and to share knowledge and skills. The garden is part of the artistic programme and key to MIMA’s Community Day. Community Day includes a community lunch, gardening as well as language and craft workshops. The Early Warning Sign sparked some discussion, for those attending Community Day or passing-by, into climate consciousness. These discussions segued into conversations around what individuals can do to make small changes that builds to larger societal impact.

Due to high winds and prolonged exposure to the elements and accumulation of rust around the base of the metal sign, it sheared off in a clean break. The sign was safely removed and securely stored in our collection storage area before it was swiftly repaired.

This sign connected with MIMA’s 2019 programme and gave opportunities to discuss environmental urgencies, sustainability and personal responsibility. It was originally adopted by Gordon Dalton, Producer at Creative Factory, Middlesbrough and displayed outside the Middlesbrough Town Hall before moving to MIMA.

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Early Warning Signs by artist Ellie Harrison Middlesbrough Town Hall entrance Creative Factory, Middlesbrough have been chosen to adopt a ‘climate / change’ sign, to be displayed outside of Middlesbrough Town Hall as part of part of artist Ellie Harrison’s Early Warning Signs project. Appearing for the first time in the North East, the Town Hall becomes part of a rich history of venues all around the UK who have adopted a sign. The Early Warning Signs project was one of the outcomes of ‘A Good Climate for Business’ - Ellie Harrison’s residency at Two Degrees festival at Artsadmin, London. A series of four of these ‘climate / change’ signs was produced to be displayed outside not as an advertisement but to simply remind us of the consequences of our consumption and global warming. Harrison acknowledged the contradictions in producing such material heavy permanent signs for the sake of a one-week festival, especially one that was meant to be addressing issues of sustainability. It seemed vital for the artist’s integrity, that the four ‘climate / change’ signs be allowed to continue to promote their cause long into the future. In the spirit of her Harrison’s mantra ‘reduce, reuse, recycle your art’ and to address the public’s responsibility towards climate change, Harrison decided to tour the four signs to different public locations throughout the UK. Host venues are asked to assist in this process by sharing details via their websites, social media and email lists using #earlywarningsigns, and directing enquiries to the project website: ellieharrison.com/climatebusiness Previous venues include Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow; Foundation for Art & Creative Technology, Liverpool

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Photos: Hynes Photography